by Ian Mann
March 19, 2018
“Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base.Lovers of jazz, funk & soul should all find much to enjoy.
(Top End Records TER0004CD)
Wild Card is a London based trio led by the French born guitarist and composer Clement Regert. The core of the band is completed by Andrew Noble on B3 Hammond organ and Sophie Alloway at the drums.
The group represents an updating of the classic jazz organ trio with elements of funk, soul and rock music added to the mix. Wild Card is a popular live attraction in the pubs and clubs of London and gigs regularly feature guest performers, the majority of them horn players including trumpeter Graeme Flowers, trombonists Dennis Rollins and Alistair White and saxophonists Roberto Manzin and Leo Richardson. Even the core trio can change for live work with Regert the only constant presence.
Regert released the first Wild Card album “Mixicity” in 2008 when the group consisted of a quartet featuring pianist Alexis Corker, double bassist Neville Malcolm and drummer Cheryl Alleyne plus an array of illustrious guests including Rollins, vocalist Liane Carroll and trumpeter Quentin Collins The album also featured contributions from percussionist Philip Harper and Parisian girl rapper B’loon.
By the time of 2012’s “Everything Changes” Regert had re-invented the group and this was the first recording to feature the current core line up of Noble and Alloway. Guests included Flowers, Rollins and B’loon and the material included contemporary versions of jazz and bebop standards by composers such as Horace Silver, Jason Moran, Steve Kuhn, Kenny Barron and Kenny Burrell. There were also a sprinkling of Regert originals, a piece by the Brazilian composer Baden Powell and a rather unlikely, but surprisingly successful, cover of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall”.
2015’s follow up, “Organic Riot” placed a greater emphasis on Regert’s own writing and represented the group’s most varied and mature work to date. This time the guests included Flowers and Manzin with Jerome Harper appearing on trombone. Percussion duties were shared between Lili Ioncheva and Joao Caetano, with one of these sharing a rhythmic alliance with Alloway on most pieces. B’loon performed on three items while soul vocalist Natalie Williams sang on two songs and contributed to the writing process.
“Life Stories” introduces a fresh roster of guest musicians. Flowers and percussionist Will Fry play on all the tracks and there are also substantial contributions from Jim Knight (alto sax), Denys Baptiste (tenor sax), Alistair White (trombone), Mary Pearce (vocals), Carl Hudson (synthesiser) and Adam Glasser (harmonica). The album was recorded ‘live in the studio’ with overdubs kept to a minimum in the attempt to recreate something of the feel of one of Wild Card’s famously exciting live gigs.
The album begins with the brief “Intro; Life Stories” which seems to emerge out of a longer jam. Initially Flowers’ trumpet is to the fore until two uncredited voices, one male, one female, emerge extolling the life affirming qualities of jazz and blues. “This is Triumphant Music” they declare. Quite.
After a deceptively gentle intro “Better Remorse Than Regret” comes roaring out of the blocks, a rousing, high energy piece powered by the horns of Flowers, Baptiste and White and the vibrant drums and percussion duo of Alloway and Fry.
Baptiste stretches out with a probing tenor solo as Hammond, guitar and percussion surge around him. Flowers’ short trumpet cameo provides a moment of respite but the temperature is soon rising again with a high energy finale incorporating something of a drums/percussion feature and more of that punchy, powerful horn section.
The first cover is a Regert arrangement of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition “Paint It Black” sung by guest vocalist Mary Pearce. The song is given a funky and soulful treatment that is likely to make it a guaranteed floor filler at Wild Card’s live shows. The guest instrumental soloist is synthesiser player Carl Hudson, of the band Incognito, who unleashes his inner Bernie Worrall to terrific effect. Like many of Wild Card’s pop and rock covers it works surprisingly well. Perhaps wisely they don’t attempt to recapture the decadent and malevolent atmosphere of the Stones’ original.
Regert’s “La Paranthese Enchantee” introduces a kind of Afro-Latin feel. It’s a breezy, feel good track that features the leader’s guitar as a solo instrument, the first time Regert has really pushed himself forward in the mix. Knight’s alto solo is bright and incisive while Noble’s underpinning Hammond also plays an important part in the arrangement.
Regert’s personal life has been informed by tragedy in recent years with the sad death from leukaemia of Alexis Corker, his partner of twelve years and the mother of his two daughters. “Beat The Beast” was written in response to that diagnosis, an expression of defiance executed in the Wild Card house style. Hard grooving and funky it’s ultimately uplifting and features powerful solos from Regert on heavily amplified electric guitar and Knight on blistering alto sax.
Dedicated to Corker and his two daughters the song “Mommy Is In The Sky” is thematically linked to its predecessor. The lyrics of this almost unbearably personal song are delivered with great soulfulness and dignity by Pearce with Baptiste’s tender tenor solo and Noble’s gospel tinged Hammond adding to the emotion of the song. White’s rounded trombone then comes to the fore in the latter stages of the piece.
But this is Wild Card, and Regert is by nature a very positive person so it’s impossible to stay sad for long. “Risky Business” is an impressive piece of writing with many twists and turns and dynamic contrasts. At its heart is a startlingly fluent harmonica solo by Adam Glasser, followed by a similarly eloquent statement on trumpet by Flowers.
The supremely invigorating “Bravid” combines jazzy, funky grooves with some punchy ensemble playing and includes a solo from Noble that delivers that classic jazz organ sound made famous by Jimmy Smith and others. Noble’s solo is followed by a series of thrilling, high octane trumpet and tenor exchanges as Flowers and Baptiste go toe to toe. Regert features briefly and there’s some bravura drumming from Alloway. Great stuff.
A funky, horn and Hammond driven Regert adaptation of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” works surprisingly well with the leader’s guitar playing a prominent part in the arrangement. There’s a blazing trumpet solo from Flowers and a second outing on synth from Hudson, who again reminds us that with a little imagination the instrument can still be a convincing vehicle for jazz soloists.Incidentally the band’s frequent contributor Dennis Rollins has long featured his own infectious arrangement of the Floyd’s “Money” in performances by his trombone/organ/drums combo Velocity Trio.
Regert’s last contribution with the pen is “Maybe…Maybe Not” with its stuttering, shuffling grooves and funk / nu-jazz feel. There’s an intriguing guitar solo from the leader and he’s followed by Noble at the Hammond. Flowers, Fry and Knight are all involved but it’s the members of the core trio that take the honours as soloists with something of a drum feature from Alloway appearing towards the close.
Finally “Herman’s Hoedown”, written by the Australian born Noble, is presented as a bonus track. It’s lively and funky and Hammond led with the composer the featured soloist with an extended excursion that fully explores the possibilities of the instrument, reaching into the realms of soul and gospel in a manner reminiscent of JTQ. When Noble signs off Knight and Flowers take over with a series of animated alto and trumpet exchanges as the rest of the band, including percussionist Fry, keep the rhythmic pot bubbling.
“Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base. Lovers of jazz, funk and soul should all find much to enjoy here. Everybody performs well and the two arrangements of outside material are largely effective and look at the chosen pieces with a fresh slant and from a different perspective. The enlarged guest list allows Wild Card to broaden their musical palette while still remaining true to their roots. All of the guests make substantial and significant contributions and it’s tempting to think of the excellent Flowers as a fully fledged member of the group.
I’ve now covered three of Wild Card’s four albums and found all of them to be hugely enjoyable with their hard driving funky grooves and inspired soloing. They’re also admirably varied in terms of musical styles, albeit within a certain template. One day I hope to catch the band live, which I’m sure must be the best environment in which to experience them. In the meantime “Life Stories” and its predecessors offer much for the home listener to enjoy.
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